No, really it isn’t!
It’s like doing an edible craft!
Building a gingerbread house is one of our family traditions that the children really look forward to the week following Christmas. I usually bake it on December 30th. We decorate it as part of our New Year’s Eve festivities, and then break it and eat it on New Year’s Day. Sugar overload at it’s finest coupled with lack of sleep equals awesome.
I used to buy my kids those ready made gingerbread houses. They are largely not edible for anyone who doesn’t enjoy gnawing on cardboard or is over the age of six. But the kids liked making them and I was intimidated by the process of making a gingerbread house from scratch. I can barely build houses with blocks or legos how could I make one out of food?
A couple of years ago I decided to give it a try and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do. And how tasty homemade gingerbread is. This is different than gingerbread cake, by the way. I know I am stating the obvious here. But maybe not.
1 C butter, softened
1 C brown sugar
1 1/4 C molasses
2 large eggs
1 T cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
6 C flour
Blend everything together.
Form into 3 or 4 thick patties.
Separate with wax paper and refrigerate for at least a hour.
Personally, I like to make this dough by myself the night before. The kids do not seem to understand that making the dough does not mean that we will also be making the house RIGHT THAT SECOND.
I double the recipe so that we have plenty extra for making gingerbread men while the house is baking and cooling.
If you only have one child you might want to make a waaaayyyy smaller house that what I have photographed. Therefore you would not need to double the recipe.
While the dough is chilling, make a house out of cardboard or heavy card stock. If you wait to do this after Christmas day you can use one of the gazillion cardboard boxes that presents came it. It is like recycling! So green of you!
This cut out will be your template for cutting out the dough. Make sure that the pieces fit together well and aren’t larger than your baking pans. Oh this is so important. I like to cut out the pieces and make sure that several fit onto a single pan.
Now go clean up all the spilled ingredients and piles of flour that are all over your kitchen.
The next day, or a few hours later…
Preheat the oven to 350. Once the dough is chilled, you will want to roll it out with your rolling pin. Liberal use of flour is recommended so that the dough does not stick to the rolling pin, table, or small children.
Cut out the pieces following your template.
Place them on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes. I usually set my oven for 7 minutes and the check every 3 minutes until they are done, because my oven is old and not all that accurate and I don’t have time to schedule a nervous breakdown in between rotating cookies sheets in and out of my oven.
Set them on a wire rack to cool completely. I let them sit cooling overnight. Uncovered, because you want them to be hard, or for the uninitiated in the gingerbread construction world, stale.
Your children will be impatient. This is where the making of gingerbread men comes in handy, offering them immediate gratification in both the decorating and eating categories.
The next day it will be time to piece the house together. Better yet, do this part at night when your children are in bed sleeping. It takes awhile to harden all up and be sturdy enough to attach things onto it.
The house is held together by Royal Icing (recipe below) Doesn’t that make you feel like a Queen? No? The scullery maid? Yeah, me too.
Unless you have ten hands, you are going to need something to hold the house together while you glue it together with the Royal Icing. Painter’s tape, soup cans, stray baskets work well. It will take a few minutes to harden. The most challenging part is trying to get all the pieces together without knocking down the ones you just put together, sort of like building a card house. If your children are already in bed, the liberal use of curse words will be appropriate, as will a glass or two of wine
If you are going to want to make “stained glass” windows, set the gingerbread house up on a board with a hole cut in the center. That way you can put a candle, or flashlight if the house will be unattended, to shine through the windows.
Making the “stained glass” is easy. You simply need some colorful hard candy, like lifesavers or jolly ranchers. Put them inside of a ziploc bag and put that ziploc bag inside a ziploc bag and then let the children pound on them with a hammer. Unless you want brown windows, seperate the candies by color before you pound them. Remove the candy crumbs from the bag and place them on a tinfoiled lined cookie sheet. Place in the oven at 300 degrees until they melt. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing them from the pan. You might want to score the melted candy into the sizes you want if the pieces are too large.
After they are cooled you attach them to the inside of your gingerbread house with the royal icing. BEFORE you assemble your house.
Plan on letting the house sit for awhile before you begin sticking all the candy on. If you followed my advice for sticking it together once the kids are in bed, you will be all set to decorate it the following night, New Year’s Eve. By then it is sufficiently hardened to withstand children pushing and poking at it.
All children seem to think that a gingerbread house looks best completely covered with cady. There should be no bare spots. And while this offends my artistic sensibilities, to them it is perfection. So to help them in their quest to cover the entire house with candy, I usually just slather the icing on all sides of the house. But if you want to be neater you can pipe the icing on just the places you want it.
This is the 2005 version of our gingerbread house:
And the 2006 version:
You can see that not much has changed, the primary objective is to stick as much candy as possible on the house. Though in Version 2006, they ventured beyond the house into decorating the “yard” with things like snowmen.
Version 2007 will be coming soon.
You will be amazed the next day at how solid the house is and will probably need some hammer-like object to break it. Unless your children are feral like mine and can destroy with their bare hands.
Then go brush your teeth.
Royal Icing Recipe:
You will need more of this you ever thought possible. Seriously when you are at the grocery just toss a bunch of those bags of confectioner’s sugar into your cart. Think about how many you need and then double that amount.
Make it in small batches as it hardens relatively quickly
4 egg whites
6c confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
With an electric mixer beat the egg whites with 1 cup of sugar and the cream of tartar until smooth. Then add the remaining sugar a cup at a time. Keep saran wrap over the bowl.